Monday, 10 December 2012

Dos and Don'ts of Ordering Wine

Working as a waitress and going to restaurants, I see both sides of the wine-ordering process. It's tough. Unless you actually know about wine, a list of names doesn't really mean a lot to you so it can be embarrassing. I get that feeling from a lot of people who come into the restaurant I work in. They don't really know a lot so they just sort of blag it, but they just end up looking like knobs. This is a list of things to do and what you definitely shouldn't do when ordering wine!

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On initial viewing of the wine list, don't get your mate to hand the wine list to you and say 'Dave, you choose. You're the wine expert.'. Just because you watched Sideways, you are not a wine expert. Expect the waitress to roll her eyes. A lot.

Don't peruse the list for at least ten minutes, not even pausing to look at the food menu, and you don't need to assert your extensive knowledge of wine by asking the waiter overly niche questions about wine that he probably won't know. There's no need - it just embarrasses all parties and makes you look like a tit.

Don't just choose the second- or third-cheapest bottle of wine, because asking for the house wine is just too cheap. If you want to ask for the house wine, ask for the house wine. A good waiter won't sneer at your choices. 

Don't pretend your eyes aren't sliding to the right hand side of the wine list. It's obvious you're looking at the price and not the wine.

Do give the waiter/sommelier your budget when you ask them to recommend a wine to you.  They won't ask for it otherwise. 

Don't assume sophistication is synonymous with the longest name. And don't try and impress your mates by trying (and possibly failing) to pronounce it in an over-the-top European accent.

Don't pick a word halfway down the wine list and say that instead of what the wine is actually called. For instance, I'll go for the Laungedoc' or 'We'll try the French one, please'. The waitress will only have to say, 'Which French one, Sir?' through gritted teeth. Stop being filled with middle-class embarrassment and order the bloody Chardonnay if you want it. It's not 1999.

You don't need to squint at the tasting notes for a good minute whilst the waiter presents the bottle. When tasting, don't give it a good swill round, sniff and gargle with it, then consider it and wrinkle your nose. You look like a dick.

Instead, do just give it a sniff. You don't need to do all that stuff to tell if it's corked or oxidised. If you don't like the wine, that's your problem. You ordered it. Just make sure you know what you're doing in this instance - if you give it a cursory sniff and say it's ok when it's not, you're stuck drinking the whole bottle of wine. They gave you the opportunity to send it back and now it's yours.

Don't pass it to your mate for a second opinion. If you don't know what you're talking about, why the hell did you order and offer to taste the wine?

Don't address your friends when expressing how pleased you are that you lucked out and chose a nice wine. It's rude.When the waitress comes round to pouring yours, don't mutter 'keep going' if she stops short of what you wanted. It makes you look greedy and it makes her feel silly. Just drink some and top it up when she's not looking.

Do end all stories with '… and we were all very, very drunk', in the style of Rowley Birkin QC. Because it's funny.


  1. An amusing take on what I know a lot of people struggle with.

    The only one I really disagree with is "Don't pass it to your mate for a second opinion." Different people have different perceptions of wine faults. I'd say that if you're not entirely sure about a wine, definitely do pass it to your mate for a second opinion. Also pass it to the waiter/waitress/sommelier and say something like "is this how it normally is?"

    If you believe a bottle is faulty (corked/TCA; excessive volatile acidity [unless it's Ch. Musar]; vinegar; cooked & madeira like [unless it's madeira]; bacterial spoilage; etc) refuse it.

    But if you refuse a bottle because it is faulty, don't immediately choose a different wine (unless the waiter admits that every bottle of that case has been dodgy). You ordered that wine because it's what you wanted, so order another bottle of the same wine. If you weren't sure, and the next bottle is quite different - and better - then you've just educated yourself, and quite possible the waiter/waitress.

  2. This is brilliant. As somebody who loves food, but doesn't know very much about wine, I find great comfort in this list!

  3. Just for the record, it's not usually the "wine expert" who labels themselves the wine expert, it's usually their friends. Perhaps based on a viewing of Sideways, or just one comment at a party about the wine on offer.

    I am *completely* with the eye-rolling waitress when my friends hand me the wine list and say "you choose, you're the wine expert..."

    1. Absolutely, I agree. What's unbearable is when they agree and pretend that they *are* an expert. They're usually not.

    2. And anonymous, it's totally fine to hand over a wine list to someone else. EVEN if, God forbid, they're female.

  4. I find some people really struggle with the wine list and go through all kinds of antics to avoid looking foolish. I think honesty is the best policy. When in doubt, I keep it simple and order the house wine.



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